*Author’s aside: Goddamn, that’s a cool picture.*
“Come on,” the man repeated implacably as he dragged me along. “We can’t stay here. It isn’t safe.”
I wanted to shout back at him, but focused instead on keeping my feet beneath me. I’d already stumbled and nearly fallen, and learned the hard way that my new captor didn’t slow down to let me recover.
“Seriously, what the hell are you doing? Who are you?” I finally forced out, as we came out into the chill of outdoors. “Listen, if you want money, I don’t have much, but you can have the forty bucks in my wallet-”
He turned his head just enough to pierce me with one gray eye. “You know nothing, do you?” he asked, still in that iron monotone.
Much as I disliked being called stupid – which, I suspected, was happening here – he had a point. I had no idea what was going on, why he’d come charging into my office, yanked me out of my cubicle, dragged me outside while totally ignoring my shouts and protests.
“No, I don’t,” I finally spat out. My foot caught at the curb between the sidewalk and the street, and I lost my balance. The man reluctantly let go of my arm – it was either that or twist it out of its socket. “So why don’t you explain?”
He didn’t speak up right away, but instead turned his face up towards the gray, cloudy sky. “It isn’t safe,” he said.
“Yeah, you keep saying that, but you’re not explaining why!” Huffing as I tried to ignore the burning in my muscles, I clambered back up to my feet. “And right now, you’re the dangerous one!”
“Me?” He seemed honestly perplexed. “I’m here to save you, fool.”
“Save me from what?” What the hell was going on? I’d been perfectly fine working before he showed up, just another happy little cog in the world’s financial system, punching numbers into a spreadsheet and counting the years down until retirement…
He sighed. For a minute, he seemed to be weighing pros and cons of some decision in his head. As I tried to regain my breath, I took a moment to examine him.
Tall and thin, in a biker’s fringed black leather jacket. A single patch, ironed onto one shoulder, showed a pair of crossed swords beneath a featureless white orb. Black pants, just slightly too baggy to be called skinny jeans. I saw strange, intricate tattoos running down his arms, curling around his wrists and spreading onto the backs of his palms, disappearing into the sleeves of that black leather jacket. A tight black cap completed his ensemble; he might be bald beneath it, as I didn’t see any visible hair emerging.
Finally, he seemed to reach a conclusion. “You are Preston Sykes,” he stated.
I nodded, a faint hope that maybe he’d mistaken me for someone else dying in my breast. “Yeah. So?”
“You are a Heir.”
There was something about the way that he pronounced that word, the capital letter seeming to fall into place. Still, it didn’t make any sense. “Heir to what? My parents came from England, and I don’t think they were related to anyone important-”
He sighed, as if I’d gotten a test question wrong. “Not this pathetic, fleshy body. Your soul.”
“Fleshy? Look, I’ve been going to the gym…” I looked down at the stubborn bit of gut that refused to go away. Admittedly, I really hadn’t been to the gym in a few months, since mid-January, and I did keep on getting those donuts at the drive-through for breakfast…
The man scowled, and something suddenly suggested that provoking him further wouldn’t be a good idea. “And now, it seems, your soul has incarnated into the body of a creature especially slow.”
“Hey! I’m not-” My voice rose in protest, but then cut off as I suddenly felt a rumble beneath my feet. I frowned. “Was that an earthquake?”
The man standing beside me looked even more alert, if such a thing was possible. If he’d had ears like a dog, they would have perked up. “Danger.” He sounded strangely eager.
“Danger? No, it’s probably just something-” Again, my voice cut off as the earth once again vibrated beneath me. This one felt stronger, as if the source of these disturbances was approaching. Another vibration followed on the heels of the second, this one catching me off balance and dropping me to one knee.
The man shook his hands out of his sleeves, the flicker of a thin grin dancing on his face. “A challenger to the Throne,” he said. “Your Champion is ready.”
Throne? Champion? I looked up at him, opening my mouth to ask what the hell he was talking about – but then my eyes rose past him, and the words died on my tongue.
It was an especially overcast day, the clouds hiding all traces of the blue sky and sun presumably somewhere above. Now, however, something dark loomed in those clouds, growing slowly more distinct as it approached in time with the earth-shaking thumps.
This couldn’t be real. It was huge, taller than my office building. The shadow looked strangely humanoid, but twisted, misshapen. A gorilla? Had King Kong come to life and now lumbered towards me?
I stared up, spellbound and transfixed, as one of the thing’s limbs came down towards us. No, it wasn’t covered in hair. Not a giant gorilla. It looked armored, like some kind of giant robot.
A maniacal giggle ripped its way out of my throat. A robot gorilla, a hundred feet tall? I was losing my mind.
But no matter how many times I blinked, pinched myself, it still loomed there. Huge, hulking, gray and ominous with a glowing red dot up at the little lump where its head ought to be. It moved in, and I saw one of those massive fists rise up.
It was here to kill me, I realized dimly through the fog that filled my head, paralyzing me. This was the end of my miserable little life, dying in a way that I couldn’t even comprehend, squashed by a monster out of a nightmare.
“Challenge accepted,” said the black-clad man standing calmly beside me. He lifted his hand-
-a sound, like the world’s largest old-school CRT television powering up, static in the air-
-and a beam, blindingly bright as the sun, shot out from his hand to stab the huge King Kong robot in the center of its chest.
For an instant, nothing. The scene was frozen, a tableau like a three-dimensional painting for me to admire.
And then, with a sound like a baseball bat connecting with a metal shed, a giant knocking down an aircraft hangar, the robot’s chest exploded outward in all directions, fracturing and ripping to send a hail of sizzling metal out in all directions as shock waves made my eardrums scream.
The monster, its chest a smoking ruin, took a single step backwards, then fell back. I saw a building collapse beneath it, failing to break its fall, and a little tiny corner of my mind gibbered as I realized that I was now very definitely unemployed.
The man in black watched the huge monster fall, that little hint of a grim smile still dancing around the corners of his gaunt face. “Challenge defeated,” he said, sounding satisfied. “But it’s still not safe. We need to go.”
He held out his hand to me, and this time, I let him tug me up and away. I didn’t know who he was, where we were going, but it seemed prudent to go along with this.